Tornillo ISD chief Paul Vranish gets more time to respond to audit of expenses; new attorney to district has ties to Vranish

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The besieged superintendent of the Tornillo Independent School District, accused of possible criminal activity in a preliminary audit by the Texas Education Agency, said he has received an extension for his response to the investigation, according to a story by El Paso ABC affiliate KVIA.

Paul Vranish, who denied the charges in the TEA audit in an interview this week, had told Texas Watchdog that he had filed the response by the March 27 deadline. When asked for a copy of that response, Vranish refused.

It turns out that he did not have a response. His answer to the audit is now due April 30.

The TEA audit accused Vranish of double-billing the district for travel expenses, buying electronic equipment without proper authorization and a number of other infractions. Vranish's wife, Marla, a counselor in the district, was also named in the TEA audit, though she was not accused of wrongdoing and the findings largely centered on her husband. The audit found that she used a personal card instead of a district-issued card to pay for expenses and that the district reimbursed her and her husband more than $117,000 last fiscal year.

The TEA ordered the school district to hire a forensic auditor to perform an audit on the reimbursements of Vranish and his wife for the years 2006 to 2011. It also ordered the district to more closely monitor the reimbursements and expenses of Vranish.

In a meeting Thursday, the board approved the hiring of legal counsel outside that of the district's regular law firm. El Paso attorney S. Anthony Safi was formally approved and addressed the TEA audit.

Safi defended Vranish in a string of small claims cases that were dismissed in 2006, records show.

Marla Vranish is currently fighting a misdemeanor assault charge in an El Paso county court, records show. Her next hearing is April 3. Her attorney, Jim Darnell, did not return a call placed Friday morning.

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Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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